Being customer-centric is not a new or complex concept, but it can often be difficult to execute effectively. Internal silos, conflicting priorities, and a lack of data often prevent marketing teams from getting insights into what a customer really needs.
We spoke with Emilio Marino, VP of Data & Services and Global Head of Spend Optimization, Mastercard to discuss his approach to managing teams and projects by keeping the customer top-of-mind.
Emilio’s career development
After interning at the Italian Trade Agency (ITA), Emilio’s first full-time position was as a Junior Marketing Manager at Cremonini S.p.A. in 1999. A year later, he ventured into the world of consultancy as a Senior Consultant for Arthur Andersen to work on the business analysis and project management side of the business.
In 2002, Emilio left to become a Manager at Deloitte Consulting, where he spent the next six years before joining Capgemini Consulting as a Manager in 2007. He then became a Director at i4C Analytics and the Head of CRM at IGT before taking a position as Director, Data & Services at Mastercard in 2015.
In the years since, Emilio has worked as Mastercard’s Director and Vice President of Data & Services, Head of Marketing Services and Marketing products.
Can you tell us a little about your career to date?
I think my expertise lies at the intersection of digital marketing, data analytics, CRM, and, in the last two years, marketing product management. I’m not a pure marketing person per se, but I’ve got plenty of experience working on the operational side of marketing, so I definitely know enough to be dangerous.
After beginning my career as a Marketing Manager in the food industry, I decided to change tack and transition into consultancy. I was in that industry for a decade or so—and it was a brilliant jumping-off point. It taught me the value of hard work (a bit of a cliche, I know!) and gave me behind-the-scenes insights into how some of the world’s most successful companies regularly stay ahead of the competition.
I was also fortunate enough to manage a number of international projects during this period. They were pretty varied in nature, but I was generally tasked with projects based around the media, telco, municipalities, and energy industries.
But as influential as this period in consultancy was, there was another seminal moment in my career: moving into a startup within the field of advanced analytics (i4C analytics). I made the move because I wanted to get a better personal understanding of how to leverage analytics to make better decisions. I already loved data modeling (even though at that time being a data scientist was not so trendy), so I thought this would be a great next step—and I was fortunately proven right.
In the end, I spent about three years building a team, managing a growing client base, and growing the P&L here in Italy before the company was bought out by Accenture. I then decided to move to a new role as a Digital CRM manager for IGT.
My previous positions had all been B2B, so I was really attracted by the prospect of working in a purely B2C role. My time at IGT completely revolutionized my understanding of what it means to be responsible for a consumer base. I learned everything there is to know about changing consumer behavior and owning the end-to-end experience.
These days, I lead European product projects with the Mastercard Managed Services Marketing team. It’s really fun to be doing something completely new. I do have some experience working within marketing, consulting, startup, and advanced analytics, but I’ve never actually worked within a product.
This has given me an amazing opportunity to blend all my skills and experience together and hopefully put them to good use. It’s also incredibly exciting to be on the customer-facing side of things. I love introducing new concepts and products to our customers. It’s as nerve-wracking as it is adrenaline-inducing.
How do you manage to deliver amazing customer experiences?
A few years ago, I worked with a large Italian bank to reinvent their entire customer experience. Up until that point, they’d exclusively used physical means of interacting with their customers. In other words, they’d just wait until a customer actually came into a branch. My job was to flip that on its head and identify ways they could master providing a digital-first customer experience. It was some time ago, but the process is essentially the same today.
There were 6 key steps we went through:
Align on objectives
No matter the project, the timeline, or even the industry, I firmly believe that you should always start by aligning your objectives. You’d be surprised at how often teams just dive into projects without first nailing down their precise objectives. This is why most projects fail: period.
Or, you might have a scenario where some team members think that they’re trying to achieve X whereas others believe it’s Y. Either way, sort your objectives out at the beginning and then work backward from there. Try to identify where you’re at right now, where you want to go, and then work out the process you need to follow to achieve these goals.
Connect with customers
Adopt every project with a customer-first hat on, even if they’re just internal projects. Imagine you’re installing a new internal IT system. Sure, this is an internal matter—but if you get it wrong, it could have a serious impact on your customers. Have the customers’ needs in mind at all times.
For example, if something goes wrong and you have a 2-day IT outage, how are you going to let customers know? How will you deal with the backlog of orders and requests? What resulting impact will it have on your customers? How can you mitigate this as much as possible? And that’s all just for an internal project. For projects that will have a genuine, tangible effect on your customers, you need to do one thing: speak with them on a regular basis.
Get to know them beyond simply analyzing their behavioral data. Connect with them as individuals and genuinely listen to what they have to say. The customers’ voices and opinions should always be in front of mind. If it’s not, you’re not doing a good enough job of connecting with them.
Map out the customer journey and identify areas where they might struggle. For example, how many touchpoints are there between a customer demonstrating they want to buy a product and them actually receiving it? Is your email inbox full to the brim with customers wanting to get more information?
Whenever you see friction—something that’s stopping the customers from having a smooth, seamless journey—work to fix it. Identify challenges, brainstorm solutions, and execute plans. That’s the ideal flow.
Bring in the innovation
Sometimes, you identify a challenge and the solution is right there in front of you. In large, successful organizations, however, these instances are few and far between. It’s likely there’s a reason behind this challenge—a reason beyond the fact that nobody has gotten around to solving it yet. That’s where innovation comes in. We’re lucky to live in what’s arguably the most innovative era in history, so make the most of it.
Once you identify the specific challenges, brainstorm and come up with a variety of solutions that might have an effective impact. Once you have that list in place, it’s time to run a series of tests. Don’t just plump for the first vendor/solution you come across. Be diligent—treat this process like you’re buying your kid’s car seat. No parent wants to buy their kid a car seat that’s unsafe, so apply this same level of rigor when testing out solutions. But remember: innovation alone isn’t enough. You need to ensure that innovation is actually solving a particular problem and that it can scale to meet your organization’s demands.
Run a pilot
Using the above example from my time working with an Italian bank, we, fortunately, managed to identify a really innovative solution that helped us completely transform their customer card onboarding process.
We knew this process had generally been pretty slow up until that point, but to see the precise impact this solution might have, we had to first run a short pilot. It wasn’t good enough to simply rely on intuition alone. We needed to back this up with data. Once we saw the results, we knew it was good to go out to the rest of their customers.
We then looked at how we could scale this solution to meet the bank’s demands. I’ve generally found that if you do your job right, your customer also ends up growing alongside you—meaning they need your help more than ever. So beyond simply scaling one particular solution to one single challenge, we also had to try and scale our impact throughout the organization: helping as many areas of their consumer lifecycle marketing as we could. And once you’ve done that, you will start all over again with a new problem or project! I love my job today because I always have something new to bring to customers.
Embracing new challenges and perspectives and taking yourself out of your comfort zone with every new project is exciting and has been a good strategy for delivering products and services that really have value and meaning to our customers.Emilio Marino, Mastercard’s Vice President, Data & Services
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